I’m not buying into the hype being put out there by SpeedX and you probably shouldn’t either.
If you aren’t familiar with the SpeedX story, SpeedX was a crowdfunding gem that launched in 2015 touting the “world’s first smart bike”, the SpeedX Leopard. For $1700 USD today, prospective owners would buy themselves a carbon frame, Shimano 105 spec bike with an integrated bike computer and rear light, internal cable routing, and “competition level performance”. From a value perspective, its a good deal.
The big problem is that as of the writing of this post, October 2016, the company has yet to deliver a bike to an end user or hand the bike over for a test ride to a respected bike publication. Though there are a small handful of reviews out there from tech pubs like Engadget and TechCrunch talking about how amazing the bike is, its feedback from folks who review electronics for a living, rather than bikes. And in the year since the Leopard launched, they’ve also launched the Leopard Pro (a higher end bike with an Ultegra spec), the Leopard AL (an aptly named aluminium variant of the Leopard), and the Mustang (a hardtail carbon mountain bike).
First of all, I think its patently wrong for a company that has yet to deliver a product to continue selling bikes and collecting money from consumers when they’ve yet to demonstrate that they can produce a finished product. More to the point, some internet searching and forum posts will show you that backers for the project have seen delay after delay in the delivery of the products they’ve paid for, and that Facebook comments on company posts and sponsored posts are routinely monitored by the company and negative comments and deleted.
But I’m not going to focus on that any more than I already have. Assuming you’re a prospective SpeedX owner doing some much needed internet research on whether or not you should shell out your hard earned bucks on a Leopard, I’m going to spend the rest of this post talking about just how well the rest of the industry already stacks up against what SpeedX offers.
What makes the SpeedX bikes “smart” (allegedly) is the integration of a stem mounted bike computer. The computer itself doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of cycling metrics and information. Nor is it anything special with regards to communication with other devices like your smartphone. That’s not necessarily a knock against it, but it shouldn’t be the key selling point.
The question I’d ask is why would a rider want to have a computer that can’t be moved from bike to bike, or upgraded in the future. The Garmin Edge 820 is a comparably sized computer that can display more data fields, and features innovative new things such as crash notification that lets loved one know if something’s happened to the bike/rider, and rider tracking that lets you see on a map where your friends that you’re riding with are.
The Garmin Edge 820 was rolled out in the time since the SpeedX smart bikes were originally introduced. The electronics industry runs on an even shorter product life cycle than the bike industry which is why companies like Garmin and Wahoo roll out new products seemingly at every new electronics (CES) and bike product expo (Interbike). In that sense assigning so much of the bike’s value as a “smart bike” to the integrated computer is as much a weakness as it is a strength for SpeedX.
From what I can see of the computer, besides stem integration, SpeedX brings nothing new to the table. As someone who owns four bikes, I’d actually be annoyed at having a single computer dedicated to a single bike (yeah, I know that having a single bike, let alone four bikes is a luxury). So I can’t help but feel that SpeedX has answered a question that no one asked with a stem integrated bike computer. And I truly believe that by the time backers end up with the bike in hand, the computer is going to be pretty much obsolete anyways.
Size and Fit
Buying a bike without riding it is like buying a $2000 suit without knowing the size. I can’t stress this point enough. To search your size on the SpeedX site, the site simply asks you to check your inseam (without shoes, obviously), and then you’ll magically know your bike size. And when you know your bike size, you’ll magically know your stem length. If you go into a bike shop and tell them you have a 30 inch inseam and ask them to tell you what bike size you should ride, they ought to quickly correct you and take the time to educate you on how complex bike fitting actually is.
At the shop I work for, when it comes to road bikes, we almost always have the guest ride one or two different bikes in a particular model just to be sure what frame size is closer for them. Recognizing that most riders can ride two different sizes we then ask what kind of riding they’re doing, how their flexibility is, how often they plan to ride, and how long do they see themselves owning the bike. For example; a more experienced rider may ride a smaller frame in a more aggressive position; a less flexible or older rider will have a vastly different fit than your favourite yoga instructor; riding 30km a week will require a different fit than riding 230km a week; someone keeping the bike for three years will grow into the bike differently than someone just doing their local charity ride; etc.
After we figure out what size frame the rider needs, then we start to spend time dialling the bike fit in. This can take 10 minutes, or it can take an hour. I’ve been lucky enough to be made for Trek bikes and I can ride most of their bikes in my size straight off the rack with just a change of the seat height. But with other riders we’ll change out the stem to put a longer or shorter stem on, with varying angles of stems depending on how high or low we want the stem to be for that particular rider’s preferences. Additionally we can change the fore/aft position of the saddle, add/remove spacers on the heat tube to change the height of the front of the bike, and play around with tilt of the handlebars to make sure the wrists are comfy.
Looking at just the rider’s inseam really just gives us about 10% of the equation. Beyond that, different bike brands and models fit differently depending on who the bike’s target rider is. I ride a 54cm Specialized Langster which is a pretty upright, chill ride, and a 51cm Trek Madone which is a low, aggressive race bike. Two totally different fits, for the same rider.
In tech terms, can you gauge how fast a computer is just based on how much RAM it has? Would you bet your entire purchase on it?
Other, Better Bikes
A couple of years ago, a carbon frame bike for $1700USD with Shimano 105 components and a computer would have been a pretty legit deal. Today, not quite as much. Today you can walk right into you local bike shop and buy a bike like the carbon fiber Giant TCR Advanced 2 for $1650 with exact same Shimano 105 components as the SpeedX Leopard. And while you’ll have to shell out a couple extra bucks for a bike computer like the Garmin Edge 520 for $300USD, I can guarantee you that you’ll have a bike that’ll fit so long as you go to a reputable shop for your purchase.
[Note: Giant Bicycles is the largest bike manufacturer in the world, manufacturing bikes for themselves, and other brands as well. By taking advantage of economies of scale, they can provide hands down the best value on bikes, while offering top tier quality products. I’ve owned Giant’s in the past and they’re fantastic bikes. They aren’t my favourite bike brand, but they’re the real deal when it comes to value and quality.]
The SpeedX Leopard Pro is another bike in SpeedX’s quiver that offers higher end product specs with Ultegra Di2 electric shifting, and comes in at the $3200USD price point. To be honest, thats quite an impressive deal and I foresee some individuals asking about what compares to that on today’s bike market. The Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 is a full $1500USD more expensive than the Leopard Pro for a comparable component groupset (but with hydro disc brakes). But what consumers ought to realize is that bike manufacturers invariably provide higher end groupsets on higher end bike frames. Where SpeedX differs from traditional bike manufacturers is that they’ve kept the bike frame the same and just swapped out the components, tacking on a full $1500USD to the bike price in the process (full disclosure; they also swapped out the saddle and handlebar). You can see this for yourself right on their website on the specs sheets for the Leopard and Leopard Pro. And what’s interesting is that you can go onto an online retailer like Wiggle.com and buy a full Ultegra Di2 groupset for under $1200USD. Go figure.
Bike manufacturers put higher end groupsets mostly on higher end bike frames recognizing that a consumer ready and willing to shell out a month’s pay doesn’t want an entry level carbon bike frame on their high end purchase. Higher end carbon frames use higher quality carbon fibre in different layup patters to change characteristics on the bike like vertical compliance (how much vibration the bike transfers to the rider), lateral stiffness (how flexible the bike is on the horizontal axis, translating to how much power is transferred to the road), weight (stiffer, higher end carbon means you can use less of it to manufacture the frame, making it lighter overall), and overall strength.
Not all carbon frames are created equal and putting a high end groupset onto a low end frame would be sort of like taking the transmission out of a Audi R8 and then putting it into a Jetta and telling consumers that the Jetta is almost as bad ass as the R8.
When another crowdfund bike, the Vanhawks Valour, came out, people were similarly stoked on the allure of a game changing carbon fibre, reasonably smart bike. The bike had everything including; a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer (don’t know why you need that on a bike), speed sensor, GPS receiver, blindspot detection sensors, and LED lights. I know a couple people who were stoked to receive theirs and it genuinely was a unique bike in that there were very few high end commuter oriented bikes on the market at that time, certainly none with that level of component integration.
But when the bikes arrived at consumer’s homes, they arrived the same way they do when a bike arrives at the local bike shop, in a big brown box. Which begged the next question, how on earth do you assemble a bike? The answer is you don’t, your local bike shop does. Assembling a perfectly tuned bike is closer to solving a 4×4 rubix cube than assembling Ikea furniture. At first blush you’re pretty sure you can figure it out, but something always keeps you from getting it right. And like that frustrating rubix cube, there’s always someone who can do it in just a few minutes and make you feel like an idiot. If you’ve read this post this far and are still wondering about the SpeedX, I can guarantee you that you don’t have the technical aptitude to perfectly assemble a carbon bike with internal cable routing and an integrated rear light.
And how much does a bike assembly cost do you ask? Anywhere from $100-$500 depending on the shop and bike. You can sometimes pay bike shop mechanics in beer or cupcakes, but don’t count on that unless you’ve got a great relationship with the shop. The more complex a bike is, the more things are likely to go wrong, and the more time consuming the build. And while the Leopard is far less complex than the Valour was, or other much higher end bikes like the BMC Time Machine and Trek Madone, its still going to be a complex build thats going to set you back a few bucks.
This also isn’t to mention things like customs and brokerage charges, and shipping fees that you may have to pay if something needs to be warranted on the bike. Speaking for myself and other savvy consumers, I know that the benefits of purchasing product online can quickly be eroded by unforeseen customs and brokerage fees that could climb into the hundreds of dollars depending on delivery service.
If it seems like I’ve got an axe to grind with SpeedX, I do. I strongly believe in supporting local brick and mortar bike shops and that certainly plays into my attitude towards SpeedX. But those local bike shops genuinely want the opportunity to develop a relationship with you and they want to help you find the bike that really fits your needs. And while not all shops are created equal, and some I love, and some I loathe, I believe local shops deserve the chance to earn your business if you’re shopping for a bike.
Now with SpeedX, competition breeds innovation, and I thank them for that. But what I find genuinely disconcerting about SpeedX is how long its taking for bikes to be delivered to customers and how reluctant they are towards providing independent bike testers and publications with bikes for long term test rides, all the while paying for Facebook ads and releasing new products. Its upsetting for me to see consumers who are legitimately stoked on a bike, shell out thousands of dollars and then be strung along with delay after delay. If backers held SpeedX to the same standard as any other brick and mortar retailer, they’d be banging the door down and asking for their money back. But under the guise of innovation SpeedX seems to be taking advantage of consumers, and at the time of writing of this post they’ve been unable to fulfill the commitments they’ve made.
SpeedX’s target consumer isn’t the avid cyclist who is shopping around for a new rig. Its the entry level cyclist, who’s probably reasonably tech savvy, who wants to get out on a road bike. There’s something alluring about a new road bike, or full suspension mountain bike, that just causes enthusiasts like me to gravitate towards the new and shiny. I don’t like to see companies take advantage of that draw to sell products.
SpeedX’s latest bike, its fifth model despite not having fulfilled orders on the first model, is called the Unicorn. Its literally named after a fictional spirit animal that doesn’t exist in reality. They got that right.